Stevia and Monk Fruit: Are They Good for You?

benefits of monk fruit and stevia sweetener for supplements and health

Stevia and monk fruit are two of the most popular natural sweeteners individuals use in lieu of regular sugar or artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, sucralose, or Ace-K.

Today, we take a closer look into both stevia and monk fruit to learn if monk fruit & stevia are a good combo to add to your diet.

Let’s get started!

What is Stevia Sweetener?

Stevia is a natural sweetener and sugar substitute derived from the leaves of Stevia rebaudiana, a plant native to Brazil and Paraguay.

The primary active compounds in the stevia plant are steviol glycosides (mainly stevioside and rebaudioside), which are between 30 to 150 times sweeter than sugar. [1]

These glycosides are also heat-stable and pH-stable, meaning they will hold up in solution as well as to the heat of cooking.

Similar to artificial sweeteners, the body cannot metabolize stevia glycosides, which means it contains zero calories for all intents and purposes.

If you’ve ever used stevia before, you may have noticed that its onset of taste is slower than sugar, but longer lasting. Additionally, certain stevia extracts are known to have a bitter aftertaste at higher doses.

Regarding its safety/legality, the FDA has approved certain refined stevia products as GRAS (generally recognized as safe). FDA-approved products contain Rebaudioside A (Reb A), one of the glycosides present in stevia that imparts sweetness.

The FDA also notes that products marketed as “Stevia” are not true stevia but contain highly purified Rebaudioside A extracts.

However, whole leaf or crude stevia extracts are not approved for use as a food additive by the FDA.

Benefits of Stevia

Zero Calories

Since stevia extract passes through the digestive tract without being broken down for energy, it technically contains zero calories, which makes it an appealing option for dieters looking for a way to sweeten food and drink without derailing their diet or macros.

Zero Carbs

In addition to containing zero calories, stevia extract also contains no carbohydrates, which makes it a great option for keto, low-carb dieters, and/or diabetics.

Zero Sugar

This comes as no surprise, especially when you consider that monk fruit sweetener contains zero carbs. This makes it appealing for low-carb dieters, keto enthusiasts, and diabetics.

Monk fruit extract contains no carbs or sugar which means that consuming it will not raise blood sugar or insulin levels.

Safe

Neither raw stevia nor crude stevia extract is GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) by the FDA. As such, it is not allowed for use as a food additive.

However, processed and refined “stevia leaf extract” containing the purified form of stevia that is 95% pure is considered GRAS and allowed to be used as a food additive.

Versatile

Stevia extracts can be found in a wide array of options, from pure stevia extracts in liquid form to various cooking and baking blends where stevia extract is paired alongside sugar and/or other sweeteners

If baking with these stevia extract-inclusive blends, it’s a good idea to consult the assorted lot of conversion charts and conversion calculators that are readily available.

Viable Option for Type 2 Diabetics

Stevia leaf extract is a viable (if not, preferred) option to regular table sugar and other sugar-laden sweeteners for type 2 diabetics who need to limit their sugar intake. Various research trials note that stevia leaf extract does not impact blood glucose levels. [5,6]

Drawbacks of Stevia

As with everything in life, in addition to stevia’s upsides, it also comes with a few downsides, including:

Possible GI Distress

Some individuals experience mild gastrointestinal side effects including gas, nausea, and bloating when using even small amounts of stevia.

Taste

Some individuals find that stevia-sweetened products have an unpleasant aftertaste, which can be characterized as slightly metallic or bitter.

Cost

Stevia extracts and stevia-inclusive sweetening blends are typically more expensive than sugar and other artificial sweeteners like sucralose, saccharin, or aspartame.

Added Ingredients

As is the case with most zero calorie sweetener packets, ones containing stevia also contain other additives and non-caking agents to keep the powder free flowing.

Possible Allergic Reactions

Stevia belongs to the Asteraceae plant family, which also includes sunflowers, daisies, and chrysanthemums. Anyone with allergies to these plants may be prone to allergic reactions to the steviol glycosides in lower quality extracts.

Stevia Extracts are Processed

Processing isn’t inherently a bad thing, nor does it make a given food, beverage, or other commodity bad or ill for health. That being said, if you are looking to go au natural, then realize that stevia extracts are highly refined and processed.

What is Monk Fruit Sweetener?

Monk fruit (luo han guo) is a small, green melon-shaped gourd cultivated in Southeast Asia.

The fruit has a long history of use by Buddhist monks who used it as far back as the 13th century.

Traditionally, monk fruit is dried and used to prepare medicinal teas.

Monk fruit sweetener is made from the fruit’s extract. Typically, the sweetener is blended alongside dextrose, maltodextrin, or other agents to balance its sweetness.

Monk fruit extract is approximately 150-200 times sweeter than sugar.

Similar to stevia extracts and other artificial sweeteners, monk fruit extract contains no calories, carbohydrates, sodium, or fat.

Monk fruit sweetener also doesn’t typically have the bitter bite that stevia extracts are known for either.

The FDA has classified monk fruit sweetener as GRAS.

Benefits of Monk Fruit Sweetener

Monk fruit sweetener has a number of appealing features making it a viable alternative to regular sugar:

Zero Calories

Monk fruit extract contains no calories making it a good sweetening option for those on low-calorie diets who still want to be able to enjoy sweet treats every now and then while losing weight.

Zero Carbs

Monk fruit extract also contains no carbohydrates, thereby making it a suitable inclusion for low-carb and keto dieters.

Zero Sugar

This comes as no surprise, especially when you consider that monk fruit sweetener contains zero carbs. This makes it appealing for low-carb dieters, keto enthusiasts, and diabetics.

Monk fruit extract contains no carbs or sugar which means that consuming it will not raise blood sugar or insulin levels.

Safe

The FDA considers monk fruit extract GRAS, and there is no substantial body of evidence to date noting any serious harmful side effects from its use (in reasonable amounts).

Versatile

Monk fruit sweeteners are available in powder, liquid, and granular form so it can be used in whatever culinary application you desire.

Rich in Antioxidants

Animal studies indicate that the active compounds naturally present in monk fruit possess antioxidant properties. However, it remains to be determined if these same properties translate to the processed monk fruit extract. [2]

May Assist Diabetics

Animal studies also indicate that the active compounds in monk fruit (mogrosides) may support healthy blood sugar levels. [2]

And, another piece of intriguing research suggests that mogroside extracts may help stave off diabetic complications. [3]

As mentioned above, these findings have yet to be replicated in human studies.

Drawbacks of Monk Fruit Sweetener

Cost

As we mentioned above with stevia extracts, monk fruit sweetener (and products containing it) generally are more difficult to find along with being more expensive compared to products using sugar or more common artificial sweeteners like those mentioned previously.

Taste

If you’re accustomed to the taste of sugar or other artificial sweeteners, it’s important to realize monk fruit sweeteners taste different and may also leave an aftertaste. Taste is highly subjective (as with all foods). Some enjoy the taste of monk fruit while others don’t enjoy it as much.

Added Ingredients

To balance out some of the potential “off” flavors of monk fruit sweetener, food and dietary manufacturers often add in other sweeteners, such as maltodextrin, sucralose or stevia.

Takeaway

Stevia and monk fruit are two of the top “alternative” non-nutritive sweeteners individuals seek out when looking to diversify their intake from the “usual” non-nutritive sweeteners (sucralose, ace-k, etc).

Both of these sweeteners are found in nature and contain little to no calories (depending on the form you use).

Stevia and monk fruit sweeteners are generally recognized as safe, do not contain carbohydrates, or spike blood sugar or insulin levels, making them a viable option for low-carb dieters or diabetics.

Ultimately, choosing which sweetener to use will boil down to taste, cost, availability, and how “natural” you want your sweetener to be.

References

  1. Cardello, H., Da Silva, M. & Damasio, M. Measurement of the relative sweetness of stevia extract, aspartame and cyclamate/saccharin blend as compared to sucrose at different concentrations. Plant Foods Hum Nutr 54, 119–129 (1999). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1008134420339
  2. Xu Q, Chen SY, Deng LD, Feng LP, Huang LZ, Yu RR. Antioxidant effect of mogrosides against oxidative stress induced by palmitic acid in mouse insulinoma NIT-1 cells. Braz J Med Biol Res. 2013;46(11):949-955. doi:10.1590/1414-431X20133163
  3. Liu H, Wang C, Qi X, Zou J, Sun Z. Antiglycation and antioxidant activities of mogroside extract from Siraitia grosvenorii (Swingle) fruits. J Food Sci Technol. 2018;55(5):1880-1888. doi:10.1007/s13197-018-3105-2
  4. Carakostas MC, Curry LL, Boileau AC, Brusick DJ. Overview: The history, technical function and safety of rebaudioside A, a naturally occurring steviol glycoside, for use in food and beverages. Food Chem Toxicol 46 (2008) S1–S10
  5. Maki KC, Curry LL, Reeves MS, et al. Chronic consumption of rebaudioside A, a steviol glycoside, in men and women with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Food and Chemical Toxicology 46 (2008) S47-S53.
  6. Carakostas MC, Curry LL, Boileau AC, Brusick DJ. Overview: The history, technical function and safety of rebaudioside A, a naturally occurring steviol glycoside, for use in food and beverages. Food Chem Toxicol 46 (2008) S1–S10.

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